Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Why I Stopped Reading Editorials

I gave up reading editorials quite a long time ago. Not because they are too often misleading or inaccurate (many of them are), or that they are too often purposely written to be controversial and sensational (again, many of them are). Rather, I quit reading because the whole purpose of editorials seems rather futile to me.

Let me explain. People who write editorials usually have a strong position with reasons and rationales why they feel that particular way. Informed readers of editorials either agree with that position and its reasons and rationales, or they disagree, usually from a strong position with a direct opposite viewpoint from that of the editorial writer. In either case, the editorial does little to change someone’s opinion; it just stirs up a lot of emotion. Therefore, the only people who might benefit from reading editorials are those who have not yet made up their minds. However, if the topic is well enough defined to cause a debate in the editorial pages, I wonder how many people really have no position or opinion. Hence, the futility. So I just quit reading them.

Occasionally, friends, family, colleagues or even readers of TrueScores send me editorials and ask for a reaction or an opinion. Not too long ago this happened regarding Dr. Chris Domaleski's op-ed “Tests: Some good news that you may have missed,” from May 29, 2008, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Chris is a colleague, customer, and friend of mine; and I found his comments to be very well written, well supported, and his message very helpful for all those impacted by testing in Georgia. His message, simplified and summarized, was: testing is complicated, necessary and beneficial and ill-informed rhetoric does not help improve learning. (This is my summary of his message and not his own words.)

Unfortunately, it would seem the ill-informed rhetoric continues. I am referring to Michael Moore's post on SavannahaNOW, called "Politics of school testing." It is too bad, but apparently Mr. Moore did not read Dr. Domaleski's comments. First, Mr. Moore claims that the state "blindsided" the schools regarding the poor results on the state’s CRCT. I don't know how this can be as the law of the land has required that states move to "rigorous" content standards and further, this law expects that no child is left behind in attaining those standards. Georgia has implemented a new curriculum with teacher and educator input. Field testing, data review, content review, alignment reviews have been conducted by educators across Georgia. All of this conducted under the "Peer Review" requirements of the Federal NCLB legislation. Passing standards were established with impact data and sanctioned by the State Board of Education. How can anyone be blindsided by such an open and public action?

Mr. Moore also states that he has seen no analysis of the assessment and no discussion of how "...a curriculum and test can be so far out of line." Hmm… I wonder if Mr. Moore is not more upset with the poor performance of the students. It could be the curriculum and the assessment fit very well together. In fact, the required alignment studies as well as educator's working with the Department to review the items should ensure they are aligned. Since the curriculum is new, perhaps the students have not learned it as well as they should.

Mr. Moore then mistakenly claims that the CRCT test in Georgia is constructed out of a huge bank of questions the test service provider (in this case CTB/McGraw-Hill) owns and is part of a "...larger national agenda." I am not much into conspiracy theories, but a quick review of the solicitation seeking contractor help would reveal that the test questions are to be created for use and ownership in Georgia only. Mr. Moore also claims that the multiple-choice format "...seldom reflect the actual goals of the standards." I admit, some things are difficult to measure with multiple-choice test questions—for example, direct student writing—yet many aspects of the learning system do lend themselves to objective assessment via multiple-choice and other objective test questions.

I don't want to get into a debate with Mr. Moore about how the State of Georgia manages the trade-offs between budget pressures (multiple-choice questions are much less expensive in total than subjective but rich open-ended responses) and curriculum coverage of more difficult aspects of the curriculum he outlines, such as inquiry-based activities. It is an over simplification, however, to simply dismiss the issues and suggest or imply that all would be well if Georgia abandoned objective measures.

At the end of the day, I disagree with Mr. Moore and agree with Dr. Domaleski that less rhetoric and more fact-based discussions are needed. If we build the test to measure the curriculum, and the curriculum is new and rigorous, it is unlikely that students will perform well at first. If we build a test where all students perform well, what good does a new and rigorous curriculum get us? Students will receive credit without learning.

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